BBC News - Education

Latest education news, comment and analysis on schools, colleges, universities, further and higher education and teaching from the Guardian, the world's leading liberal voice
  1. Plan suggests MPs are unhappy with way issue has slipped down Downing Street’s agenda

    MPs are in danger of starting a turf war with the Department for Education, after the education select committee announced a wide-ranging inquiry into funding for schools and colleges in England.

    Announcing the inquiry, the committee’s chair, the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, said he wanted the the inquiry to promote an ambitious “10-year vision for education investment” supported by the public.

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  2. The new universities regulator has rattled the elites, who would probably rather operate above the law

    Over the years, I’ve come to know and almost love the hardy perennial higher education news stories: students so broke they’re turning to sex work, student political correctness gone mad (these days reframed as an avalanche of snowflakes), and the prospect of Oxford and Cambridge going private.

    In the latest iteration of the latter story, the crossbench peer Lord Butler, a former master of University College, Oxford, argues that the government should view the idea of Oxford and Cambridge going private with sympathy. It comes amid a likely long-term fees freeze and concerns about the powers of the controversial new universities regulator, the Office for Students. After all, why should England’s oldest and most elite universities be subject to what they see as onerous regulation, and a tuition fee cap of £9,250?

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  3. The Open University crisis exemplifies the UK’s failure to support adult learning. It’s time to seek inspiration elsewhere

    The current crisis at the Open University illustrates how public support for adult learning has gone so badly wrong in the UK. For nearly half a century, the OU has served a unique role in British educational life, complementing face-to-face learning in place-based institutions with distance education. While the 2012 tuition fees rise increased budgets for most universities, they have been disastrous for the OU, Birkbeck and others serving part-time mature students.

    But the crisis in adult higher education participation is not limited to specialist institutions. Step by step, opportunities for adults to learn have been eroded. First, the 100-year tradition of university extra-mural departments aimed at adults closed one by one. Second, state funding for mature students to study at the same level or below their highest qualification went out of the window. Meanwhile, widening participation strategies were concentrated more and more on school leavers. Then the fees rise devastated mature and part-time study, especially at sub-degree level. And once the student number cap was lifted, most universities opted for the easily administered full-time young entrant over the less tidy part-time adult.

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  4. Problem exists throughout primary and secondary school, leading to lower self-esteem and negative behaviour

    Teachers are encountering increasing numbers of children with stunted vocabularies – haunting many pupils from primary to secondary school – and they fear “vocabulary deficiency” will hold them back educationally and socially.

    In response some schools said they had adopted approaches such as highlighting pupils’ use of informal words such as “innit” and encouraging them to improve and widen their use of language.

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  5. Use of RPI figure condemned as students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland face rise

    Ministers are facing renewed criticism over university funding after an increase in student loan borrowing costs using a “flawed” measure of inflation. The interest rate on loans for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will rise by up to 6.3% from September, up from the current 6.1% for anyone who started studying after 2012.

    The change is a consequence of the increase in the retail price index (RPI) for last month to 3.3% from 3.1% in March a year ago. The government links the interest rate on student loans to the RPI reading for March each year, plus 3%.

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  6. Emily Beatty from King Edward VII school in Sheffield came joint-first among 200 teenagers

    A 17-year-old Briton has won a gold medal in an international mathematics competition, becoming the first UK entrant to achieve full marks.

    Emily Beatty, who attends King Edward VII school in Sheffield, came joint-first among nearly 200 teenagers who took part. She was one of only five competitors to get a perfect score of 42 out of 42.

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  7. In a city under siege, schoolchildren take public exams in cellars to escape the shelling, and classes are conducted by WhatsApp. Their teachers describe what it’s like to run a school in a war zone

    Abdulkafi Alhamdo is an English teacher in Syria. He loves Coleridge and Shakespeare and is currently teaching his students Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In 2016, he was evacuated from Syria’s very own heart of darkness – Aleppo – where he taught traumatised school children in cellars and bombed-out buildings throughout the siege, even as they starved. Now he lives and works in the rebel-held north-west province of Idlib, where he and fellow teachers are struggling with few resources and little support to educate the next generation, those who will shape the future of Syria.

    Idlib, the largest province in Syria to remain outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, has seen a steady increase in violence in recent months with bombing raids by Russian and Syrian jets and the arrival of refugees fleeing from other war-ravaged zones, which – according to Alhamdo – makes the ongoing work of Syria’s teachers all the more vital. “We want education to continue because we don’t want these young children or students to think of guns,” he says. “Without schools, they would carry guns but, because of their attendance at school, they are students.”

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  8. The course involves long hours and a huge workload, but it can be hugely rewarding and can give you the skills for a range of careers

    Doing an architecture degree can be hugely rewarding. But it is also among the most challenging – with long hours, a huge workload and focus on detail – so it’s vital to understand what you’re letting yourself in for. Here we answer students’ commonly asked questions.

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  9. A headteacher in Guernsey has abolished the posts, replacing them with a leadership team. But without gender balance and a wider variety of roles, discrimination is always likely

    Head boys and girls sound like a Harry Potter creation, but most secondary schools in Britain have some version of the role.

    Twenty years ago, when I was selected as head girl at Fairfield High in Widnes, a mini scandal broke when the head announced it would be decided by a pupil vote instead of senior leaders. Teachers worried that this would lead to distracting campaigns. But they forgot we were teenagers, and therefore lazy. Mostly, I won because no one else wanted to spend their evenings showing potential new parents around.

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  10. Pressure on places shows signs of easing in areas of England including London and Birmingham

    Thousands of parents in England have been denied a place for their child at their first choice of primary school. Evidence suggests, however, that pressure on reception classes is easing in some areas, including London, where applications were down 2.3% on last year.

    After an anxious wait documented by many parents on social media, more than half a million families across England were informed on Monday which school their child will be attending in September.

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  11. Teachers around the US are taking matters into their own hands as they strike for raises and school funding – in some cases without union support

    Related:West Virginia teachers' triumph offers fresh hope for US workers' rights

    When teachers in West Virginia went on strike in February, there was little indication that a swath of other states would follow suit.

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  12. Ballot finds significant majority in favour of accepting offer to reopen talks over pensions

    The strike action that hit 65 universities across the UK this year is on hold after staff voted to accept an offer to reopen negotiations with employers over their pensions.

    The ballot of 50,000 University and College Union members in higher education found a substantial majority in favour of accepting the offer, which establishes a joint committee of experts to evaluate pensions provided through the University Superannuation Scheme (USS).

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  13. Resistance comes as union says lack of funds is forcing vulnerable children out of schools

    Families of children with special needs are joining forces to fund legal action against local authorities in England that are cutting budgets, after the teaching union said children who could not be supported were being taken out of schools.

    Alicia McColl, whose 14-year-old son Kian has autism, raised £2,600 via the crowdsourcing website CrowdJustice to help pay for a judicial review of Surrey county council’s proposals to cut its special educational needs and disabilities (Send) budget by £20m. A similar challenge is under way in Hackney, London, watched closely by parents across the country who are also witnessing cuts.

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  14. Peter Horrocks quits following opposition to plans to reduce courses and lecturers

    Peter Horrocks, the vice-chancellor of the Open University, has resigned after failing to quell a staff revolt over his plans to institute major budget cuts and redundancies.

    The announcement came after Horrocks proved unable this week to win the backing of the OU’s governing council. He failed to convince its members that he could manage the reforms needed at the distance-learning institution launched by Harold Wilson in 1969.

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  15. There is no question that universities owe students fair compensation, says Shimon Goldwater. Plus a university lecturer praises student solidarity, and Robert Ross laments the marketisation of higher education

    Students who feel their universities are not taking their complaints about lost teaching time seriously (Letters, 16 April) have tried signing petitions, writing letters and speaking to the media. The universities have stood firm in refusing to pay a penny in compensation.

    No other service provider would get away with charging for 25 weeks of a service and cutting that to 22 with no price reduction. There is no question that universities owe students fair compensation. Because of the huge numbers of students affected, universities could have to pay out millions of pounds. This is why petitions have proven ineffective. Universities might act when a petition calls for a lecturer to be sacked or for a change in investment policy. But they are much less likely to respond to a petition for them to pay out millions to students.

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  16. Income loss from tuition fees cap could prompt a break from state control, which other institutions might follow

    As universities wait to see if the government will cut tuition fees – and therefore their income – one of the most controversial questions of all is being discussed. Could Oxford and Cambridge universities opt to break free from state control and go private?

    The government launched its review of post-18 education in February. With the Tories keen to woo young voters, following Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to end tuition fees, a reduction of the £9,250 fees cap is widely expected. But vice-chancellors say quality could be threatened if the government does not plug any gap with new funding.

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  17. Other risqué sins of fashion as laid down by BPP law school include colourful socks and ‘kinky boots’

    Trainee barristers are being told they will be docked points in their exams if they wear short skirts, colourful socks or “kinky boots”.

    A handbook at the BPP university law school warns students that they may lose points if they do not adopt an extremely conservative dress code in their advocacy assessments.

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  18. Letters: British university students Katrina Allen and Ben Dolbear lament their loss of teaching hours as a result of the lecturers’ strike. And pupil Romy McCarthy questions the usefulness of the GCSEs she is about to sit

    I am an MA student on the journalism course at Birkbeck, University of London, fighting for compensation for lectures lost due to the staff strike. We paid £3,000 last term for services that were not provided. I wrote to the master of the university, David Latchman, about this and received no reply. I then wrote to the registrar and got this back: “Your tuition fees contribute towards your entire learning experience and are not directly linked to specific contact or teaching hours. Your tuition fees also cover infrastructure such as buildings, library and IT.” How can it possibly be stated that my entire learning experience is not diminished by a lack of lectures?

    The university have taken my money and banked what they have not paid the lecturers, it seems. We have been told that the strike may affect lectures for the first two weeks of next term and could be ongoing. I have just been asked to pay my fees for the summer term. I don’t intend to throw more money at the university unless I get a promise of compensation if the strike is ongoing. I wonder if I’ll be thrown off the course?
    Katrina Allen

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  19. Interview: The chair of the education select committee, dubbed ‘a white-van Tory’, on why he now has more power than a minister

    After last year’s general election, one of Theresa May’s first moves was to sack not only Justine Greening, the education secretary, but also Robert Halfon, the skills minister, whom she had appointed to the job less than 11 months earlier. Why, I ask Halfon in his House of Commons office, was he caught up in this purge? “I have no idea. She just said to me: ‘Go back to the backbenches. You’re good at campaigning.’”

    He took the prime minister at her word. His first campaign was to get himself elected by his fellow MPs as chair of the education select committee. “I stood for days on end in Commons corridors and in the members’ lobby handing out my ladder of opportunity.” Pardon? He hands me a sheet of paper depicting a ladder with five rungs. It lays out the statistics of educational inequality – “when getting similar GCSE results and living in the same neighbourhoods, pupils on free school meals are 47% less likely to attend Russell Group institutions” – and policies needed for a more socially just system. If the policies are implemented, those who reach the top of the ladder will have “secure and prosperous lives” and the country “a thriving economy fit for purpose in the 21st century”.

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  20. From legal questions about the tenancy to budgeting for bills, here’s how to find the right student property

    Moving into your first student house or flat is a rite of passage for a lot of young people. It’ll be your home from home for many months, so you need to find the right property. Whether you’re after a warm place to study or a pre-drinks venue, here’s what to consider before signing up.

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  21. Curation offers an opportunity to confront the lack of diversity in the arts by addressing issues of gender, race and sexuality

    Activism is having a renaissance. We live in the age of zeitgeist movements like #OscarsSoWhite and #Metoo, of millions thrumming the streets in support of the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.

    Curatorial activism is the art world’s equivalent. “It’s the practice of organising art exhibitions with the principal aim of ensuring that large constituencies of people are no longer ghettoised or excluded from the master narratives of art,” says curator Maura Reilly. Its mission is to get the art world to understand that issues of gender, race and sexuality require urgent attention.

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  22. The UK’s research ecosystem is fragmented. We need more collaboration to pool expertise and improve public health

    Good public health is central to the success of our cities, nations and regions. It’s an area in which higher education has a key role to play, since working to address local and global health challenges and develop cutting-edge drug therapies is deeply rooted within academic institutions. Yet universities are still an underused resource in tackling local public health problems.

    The main obstacle is the absence of organisations that connect universities and the NHS. In the UK, there are just six Academic Health Science Centres, which bring together research, education and clinical practice to translate research swiftly into patient care and ensure that patient interactions contribute to the generation of new knowledge. These AHSCs are not spread evenly around the country: three are in London, and one in Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester.

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  23. My university is digitally tracking who turns up to class, but students are failing to show and lecturers feel spied on

    My university has introduced a new method of monitoring student progress, a digital apparatus for tracking class attendance. Instead of students putting their initials on a register, they tap their ID cards on a card reader. The lecturer then navigates the university website to retrieve the tally – which is far more cumbersome than glancing at a sheet of paper. But that’s not the worst problem with the new system.

    The digital attendance system is an educational software product, given a ridiculous tech startup-inspired name. It’s been bought in at considerable cost to the university to cover things like the installation of card readers in teaching rooms across the campus.

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  24. Race is still a disadvantage for black and minority ethnic staff and students. We need radical change to level the playing field

    Radical changes are needed in the UK education system to demonstrate that inclusion, social justice and equity are being taken seriously. Schools, colleges and universities must be held more accountable for their practices, and demonstrate that they are implementing policies with concrete outcomes for the inclusion of black and minority ethnic staff and students.

    Race continues to remain a disadvantage for those from black and minority ethnic groups. By virtue of their non-white identity, black and minority ethnic groups continue to be positioned as outsiders, marginalising them in all aspects of society.

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  25. More students from underrepresented backgrounds are studying for a degree. The next step is to ensure they do well

    Universities have been making progress on opening their doors to students from underrepresented backgrounds. But getting in is not enough – getting on is important too. Students from underrepresented groups deserve an equal opportunity to succeed in their studies and to pursue rewarding careers. This is not happening.

    New data published by the Office for Students shows that black, Asian or disabled students and students from disadvantaged neighbourhoods are significantly less likely to succeed at university. The differences are stark: the proportion of students who get a first or 2:1 degree is 10 percentage points lower for students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds than for their wealthier peers, three points lower for those with a disability than for those without, and 22 and 11 points lower respectively for black and Asian students than for white students.

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  26. A colleague took advantage of vague guidelines on staff-student relationships. We must end this abuse of power

    A few months into my first lecturing job I was told that a male colleague – let’s call him Matthew – was apparently keen on pursuing a female student now and then. He “dated” some young women he taught and was in “relationships” with a few (I use inverted commas here because I don’t consider such a liaison an equal one and therefore a real one in terms of power). It was apparently an open secret in the department and beyond.

    For years, Matthew was allowed to grade these students’ coursework and supervise their undergraduate dissertations. He was their personal tutor, too. That means he was the primary reference writer once they graduated and started looking for jobs.

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  27. Students view staff dating their peers as ‘predatory’. Yet few universities have policies on appropriate teaching relationships

    The #MeToo movement and institutional sexual abuse scandals have shown that sexual exploitation is widespread across many areas of society, but it has a distinctive pattern in universities. This stems from the power imbalances between students and staff in higher education, and the ways in which these can be exploited by staff to gain sexual access to students.

    This power imbalance, enabled by the blurred boundaries between staff and students, can lead to toxic cultures in which students are required to make a judgment as to what behaviour is appropriate. Equally, refusing sexual advances from staff or reporting such behaviour places students at risk of punitive responses, such as loss of access to teaching, resources, references, job opportunities and career networking

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  28. A high-profile conference featuring only white, male speakers was nicknamed the “Stanford sausage fest”. It shows why history must improve its diversity

    Who gets to have a say about history? About what happened in the past, and what that might tell us about today? According to one recent conference at Stanford University in California, it’s still only a certain group who have the right to tell us. Nicknamed the #StanfordSausageFest, this conference featured a programme of 30 white, male speakers. That’s it. No people of colour, and no women.

    The episode has raised important questions about the diversity of history as a discipline, and who is listened to in public debates. Higher education generally is still too white and too male, and this problem is exacerbated when it comes to which historians are given a platform in the media and on the national and international stage.

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  29. Universities are falling behind government targets to increase female representation on their boards by 2020. They need to take action now

    It’s well known that female representation on boards in FTSE 100 companies is woefully low. The picture is sadly no different in universities, which have been set a target of 40% female representation on boards by 2020 in England. In Scotland last month, all public boards, including universities, were asked to comprise 50% women by 2020. Yet at present women make up just 36% of boards and chair just 19% of them across the UK. To have any chance of meeting these targets, universities will have to really step up progress over the next year.

    Diversifying boards matters because a range of perspectives, expertise and experiences strengthen their effectiveness, combating unconscious bias and “groupthink”. It also helps inspire a future generation from diverse backgrounds to get involved. As universities widen participation to students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities and geographical regions, it’s important that governing bodies mirror their diversity.

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